Every Girl Needs A Shero
While volunteering as a sexuality education facilitator at a public school in an impoverished area of Lagos in July 2012, I noticed day after day for 6 weeks, that the number of boys in both classes I facilitated were up to 4 times higher than the number of girls. Even the girls who came were irregular and were always distracted and sleepy when in class.
Speaking with some of the girls, they told me that many of their mates had dropped out due to pregnancy and childbirth.
Others had to assist their mothers by hawking to raise money to feed the family, making formal education impossible for them, poverty and financial dependence also contributed as the teenage girls had to negotiate sex in exchange for money to buy their basic needs like sanitary towels, bathing soap, underwear, toothpaste and body lotion.
Upon visiting Ajegunle - the community where most of the girls lived and meeting with the community heads and some of the teenage girls, together we identified that among other factors, discouragement from their mothers who they reported saying “no man would marry them if they are too educated” played a big role.
Another deterrent identified as the reason why many of the girls were not taking advantage of the little opportunity at receiving education available to them thereby causing the rate of illiteracy and school drop-outs amongst the teenage girls of this community to increase is a lack of positive role models, a feeling of isolation and inability to access basic information.
To address these issues, I intiated the “Empowering Women of the Future” project.
Along with other intervention methods, the project introduced the “Meet a Shero” segment. Using technology and computer softwares like skype and google hangouts, we introduce participants to girls and women - Sheros the world over who have gotten education at all cost and are influencing their communities positively.
We also show short documentary videos of Sheros the world over innovatively changing lives or sharing their stories and challenges, some of which the Sheros in Ajegunle are experiencing themselves on video sharing sites like youtube.
The effect of this is that a Shero in Ajegunle for example, now knows Malala because she has seen videos of and read about her, this has helped the girls develop a sense of belonging, they now know they are not alone; that somewhere on the other side of the planet a girl is experiencing similar challenges but she is determined to overcome them and get education at all cost.
To attend the problem of economic/financial dependence on intimate partners who often assault and abuse them, we download free tutorial videos on photography and makeup artistry. This has saved me the cost of having someone physically come to the community to teach them these skills and it has enabled them learn at their own pace. Some of our Sheros are now able to make people up for a fee, which they use for their upkeep.
Their perspectives and mind has broadened since they were introduced to the web. Sheros are now able to research topics on their own during meetings, questioning the things I tell them and asking me to provide links to online sources especially when it relates to sexual and reproductive health. Imagine how well they would perform if they applied that same zest in formal education.
The problem with our system of formal education is that very little consideration if at all any is given to out of school teenage girls. Technology makes it possible for education to come to them – no matter where they are, at a farm, in their shops, in their backyards or while nursing their new born.
Social media can be a neutral player when used correctly, out of school teenage girls can get information and learn in an inclusive environment where they are not labelled or made fun of or bullied into conformity or dropping out.